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Bear the Mountain Man bidding farewell to native state

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By Sandy Barnes

After 24 years of teaching the history of the fur trade to Jefferson County students at its Outdoor Laboratory Schools, Bear the Mountain Man — a.k.a. Stephen Ham of Evergreen — has retired and is moving to Texas.

 

“When I retired from the Outdoor Lab, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Ham. “I just sat at the computer and cried.”

At the Outdoor Lab Schools at Mount Evans west of  Evergreen and Windy Peak in Bailey, Ham has imparted his knowledge of fur traders who came to Colorado in the 1800s. He also has used his first-hand experiences as a hunter of deer and elk in his native Colorado.

“I’ve been a practicing mountain man,” he remarked.

During his programs on fur traders, Ham said, he developed a tradition of “marrying” one of the female students in his classes. 

“I start talking about how mountain men would marry a Native American woman,” he said. “I tell them, ‘I just bought myself a wife.’ ”

Ham said he would choose one of the girls, let her dress in vintage clothing, and would have a photo taken while he was holding a muzzle-loaded rifle.

In his classes, Ham explained to the students that during the fur-trading era in the West, traders aligned themselves with Native Americans.

“They were like brothers,” he said. “They worked together very closely.”

During his years in Evergreen, Ham also played the role of Santa Claus, using his natural white beard and hair for realism.

“It all started at the Evergreen Community Church of Christ,” he said.

During the Christmas season, he would appear as Santa at a holiday breakfast at the church. From there, he branched out to roles of Santa at the downtown Evergreen Holiday Walk, at the Outdoor Lab and at private parties.

Ham also served on the board of the Outdoor Laboratory Foundation, a support organization for Jefferson County Public Schools. Recently, an activity hall at the Mount Evans Outdoor Lab School was named in his honor.

After living in Colorado most of his life, Ham said he is moving to Texas for health reasons. 

“Living here has been the highlight of my life,” he said of his time in Evergreen. “It’s been a wonderful community.”

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.